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Ignoring UNRWA’s problems will only condemn future generations of Palestinians

May 2, 2024 | Justin Amler

UNRWA's Gaza headquarters (Image: Shutterstock)
UNRWA's Gaza headquarters (Image: Shutterstock)

The Algemeiner – 1 May 2024

 

It’s common knowledge that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is a deeply problematic organization, and its decades-long collusion with terrorists has been well-documented.

UNRWA’s staff have been caught espousing and encouraging terrorism, and its facilities have been used to hide terror infrastructure, including recent revelations that a Hamas command centre was found underneath the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, and was sharing its electricity.

Yet, despite this well-publicized and publicly known information, much of the world has turned a blind eye, preferring to maintain the false and lazy narrative of UNRWA being an organization whose sole purpose is to look after Palestinian refugees and their descendants, instead of admitting that UNRWA actively perpetuates the Palestinian conflict.

But after revelations in late January of the direct involvement of at least 12 UNRWA personnel in the October 7 massacre, and a further revelation that at least 10% of its 13,000 Gaza workforce were members of terrorist groups, many countries could no longer ignore these issues and correctly decided to suspend funding to the UN body organization.

During a UN Security Council session on UNRWA, its leader, Philippe Lazzarini, and Israel’s UN Ambassador, Gilad Erdan, traded barbs, with Lazzarini blaming Israel for the Gaza death toll and accusing Israel of leading an “insidious campaign to end UNRWA’s [aid and social services] operations,” and Erdan responding that UNRWA is “one of the weapons” used to try to destroy the Jewish state and is the “single biggest obstacle to a solution.”

In early February, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, under growing pressure to secure UNRWA funding, was forced to appoint what he called an “Independent Review Group” to investigate if UNRWA was doing “everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

Yet the group’s independence was immediately called into question, with NGO UN Watch labelling the entire investigation “rigged.”

The head of the group appointed was Catherine Colonna, a former French Foreign Minister, who stated on February 22 that the purpose of the review was to “enable donors, the largest among them … to regain confidence … in the way UNRWA operates.”

That means the investigation was never about investigating the workings of UNRWA, but about securing the confidence of donors to keep the money pouring in. And with France being one of UNRWA’s biggest backers, both financially and politically, it’s difficult to see just how independent she could be in this investigation. Colonna had even commended UNRWA for its work shortly before her appointment.

Helping Colonna in this “investigation” was the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) research centre, which published a report in 2022 on UNRWA which denied accusations that the agency “instigates violence… through school curricula with an anti-Israeli edge.” The lead author of that report was Kjersti G. Berg, who published a book in 2023 arguing in favour of the Palestinian “right of return,” which would effectively mean the destruction of Israel as a democratic, Jewish-majority state.

With so-called “independent” credentials such as this, it came as no surprise that the “Independent Review Group” delivered its report and verdict on April 22, claiming that the UN agency had “robust” neutrality mechanisms and that Israel hadn’t provided any evidence that agency staff were members of terrorist organizations.

Although the review did find that biased social-media posts and antisemitic content in some textbooks did “constitute a grave violation of neutrality,” and acknowledged that UNRWA must do more to ensure its employees are politically neutral, it also claimed a significant screening process already existed in order to “ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles.”

Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer disputed this, calling the report a “whitewash” that ignored the severity of the problem, because it did not deal with the enormous scope of Hamas’ infiltration of UNRWA, which is so deep that “it is no longer possible to determine where UNRWA ends, and Hamas begins.”

This lack of any significant critical findings was in contrast to the European Parliament, which, in early April, denounced and condemned UNRWA’s role in inciting violence and antisemitism in a series of resolutions stating that Palestinian school textbooks (created by the Palestinian Authority) were responsible for “hateful contents encouraging violence, spreading antisemitism and inciting hatred” against Jews and Israel.

This echoed a previous denouncement back in April 2021, when the Parliament adopted a resolution condemning UNRWA for the “hate speech and violence taught in Palestinian school textbooks.”

Yet despite this, the EU, along with most donor countries, except for the US, have now resumed funding to UNRWA.

UNRWA remains a serious problem, and by ignoring and whitewashing the evidence of its collusion with Hamas, future Palestinian generations will continue to be condemned to an education indoctrinated with hatred and violence rather than peaceful coexistence.

Justin Amler is a Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

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